By Mark Siegel, MD, FAAO
Halloween is a popular time for people to use decorative contact lenses or the latest fad, circle lenses, to enhance their costumes. However, given how easy it is to obtain theses products, it’s becoming increasingly popular for people to purchase these novelty lenses all year-round.
However, few know the risks associated with these lenses. Most people believe that decorative lenses do not require the same level of care or consideration as a standard contact lens because they can be purchased over-the-counter or on the Internet- this is far from the truth.
There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” contact lens. Lenses that are not properly fitted may scratch the eye or cause blood vessels to grow into the cornea. The lenses can cause corneal ulcers (infections) that can result in permanent corneal scarring, loss of vision, or even blindness. This is after intensive treatment with antibiotics for several weeks, reducing a patient’s ability to drive or even work
Permanent eye damage can result from buying contacts without a prescription. Many of the lenses found online or in beauty salons, novelty shops or in pop-up Halloween stores are not FDA-approved and are being sold illegally. Websites often advertise decorative contacts as if they were cosmetics, fashion accessories or toys. With whimsical, playful packaging and names like Dolly Eyes, their targets are often teens and young adults. But the increasingly popular circle lenses, which are especially liked by teenage girls, are not FDA-approved.
Purchasing contact lenses without an eye examination and a prescription from an eye-care professional such as an optician, optometrist or by an ophthalmologist can cause serious eye disorders and infections, which may lead to blindness. Even if you have perfect vision, you need to get an eye exam and a prescription from an eye-care professional in order to wear any kind of contact lens.
All contact lens are medical devices that require a prescription and proper fitting by an eye-care professional. To protect the eyes, an eye-care professional measures each eye in order to properly fit contacts for the patient. Additionally, the eye-care professional instructs the patient on appropriate contact lens care. Lenses that are not cleaned and disinfected increase the risk of eye infection as well as sleeping in contact lenses which increases the risk of corneal ulcers fifteen fold.
Not all patients are good candidates for contacts (prescription or decorative lenses). Patients who have frequent eye infections, severe allergies, dry eye that is resistant to treatment, a very dusty work environment or an inability to handle and care for the lenses may not be suitable candidates for contacts. An eye-care professional can help you make a decision that is right for you and your eyes.